harry diamond's memoir

can you get me into the papersDuring my two years with the Express I wrote a book in collaboration with a friend, Phillip Seltzer, whose medical practice was in Gorbals. Phillip was also my own general practitioner. Once when I was subjected to a lot of pressure at work and was feeling some anxiety he said, "Go for a drive in the country and watch the cows grazing. They don't have any anxieties. Would you like to be one of them?" Not a very scientific observation on my condition but I went away cured!

Phillip was a burly, good-humoured, dedicated man with a big black moustache like the Hollywood version of a Mexican bandit. He used to tell me the most bizarre stories about his patients.

"Gorbals was a wonderful place to practise medicine," he said. "It contained every medical condition from the common cold to rare nervous diseases and was so overcrowded that disease spread quickly from person to person. It was a challenge to any doctor to see what he could do to ease the terrible plight of the people who lived there."

One day I suggested we collaborate on a book about his adventures, which we did, but Phillip's epic struggle against disease in Gorbals did not appeal to a number of London publishers to whom it was submitted. They said it was too localised in scope. Six years later Dr Gladstone Robertson had a book published called Gorbals Doctor, a poor thing compared with ours.

For several months I carried a heavy Grundig tape recorder by tramcar to Phillip's house most afternoons and taped his stories. I slept for a few hours when I came home from the Express about 4 a.m., went to Phillip's for a two-hour session in the afternoon, went home for a quick meal, and then went into the office for another demanding night of tension working against deadlines. Jackie put up with all this without a word of complaint. She accepted that this was the kind of idiotic life that made me happy.

Eventually we had a manuscript called Not For Their Hurt, a rather pretentious phrase from the Hippocratric Oath that doctors undertake agree to observe. The author's name was given as Michael Harvie, the names of my two sons.

After the publishers rejected our manuscript I sent a couple of chapters to the editor of the Sunday Mirror and almost before I got back from the postbox there was a Sunday Mirror man at the door wanting more. The newspaper paid us £600 and Phillip's story appeared as a four-part series under the lurid title Hell is my Surgery.

I didn't offer the story to the Express as I knew they wouldn't pay us as much as one of the more sensational London newspapers who were trying to work up their circulation in Scotland.

Sandy Webster, editor of the Sunday Mail at the time, bawled me out on an underground train. "I would have given you £100 for the story," he shouted across a crowded carriage. Sandy didn't give money away lightly.

Mrs Alice Cullen, Member of Parliament for Gorbals went berserk at the "totally unjustified slur on the good people of Gorbals" as she described it to the General Medical Council, the doctors' disciplinary body.

"Is any of it untrue?" she was asked.

"It's all lies," said the faithful Mrs Cullen, a statement she was unable to substantiate. In view of the fact that Phillip wasn't identified and we didn't use any real names Mrs Cullen's complaint was thrown out.

I've read a lot over the years of the warmth, generosity and compassion of the Gorbalonians of those days; sentimental, nostaglic drivel. There were many respectable, hard-working people there but there were many others who would cut your throat for the price of a packet of cigarettes.

Phillip Seltzer cared for them all. His own compassion knew no bounds. Sometimes he saw such shocking conditions in a house where someone just could not be helped for one reason or another that he punched the wall of the close in frustration when he came out.

The year he started to practise there, about 18 months after he came out of the Royal Air Force, Gorbals covered 252 acres and had a population of 36,000 people. In the same year the town of Falkirk, only a few miles away, had 37,500 people living in 4,035 acres. The Lanarkshire town of Aidrie, which was even nearer, had 30,500 in 2,068 acres.

The plight of many young mothers and babies gave Phillip Seltzer a lot of worry. Many of the girls weren't married. In an area where so many people lived so closely together it was not surprising that the propagation of the species was such a popular diversion. Early one morning a woman phoned to say, "Wull ye come doon and see Moira Kelly doctor."

"Yes, what's wrong?"

"Ah don't know," said the caller. "She just gave me a shout when ah wis goin' tae ma work. She just said she waanted ye to come doon."

Phillip climbed the winding, damp-smelling stairway to the third storey tenement flat. A lodger opened the door and he went to Moira's room. The pale morning light struggled through the grimy window. The furniture consisted of a bed, a wooden kitchen chair, and a small chest of drawers. A bare, 40-watt bulb hung from the dejected grey ceiling.

Moira was on the bed covered by a single grimy blanket. Her face was pale and her lank brown hair lay lifeless on the pillow. She was about 19.

"Oi t'ink oi've had a baby," she said. Her accent was as thick as the bog in her native Ireland.

"What do you mean you think you've had a baby?" asked Phillip."Don't you know?"

He pulled back the blanket and found a new-born baby, kicking brightly in a pool of half-dried blood between the girl's legs. His skin was light brown.

"When did this happen?" asked Phillip.

"In the middle of the noight doctor."

"Why didn't you call for help. There are other people in the house?"

"Och, oi didn't loike to make a fuss so oi just waited until the mornin'."

Mother and baby miraculously survived.

Despite the poverty of Gorbals gambling was endemic. For years Glasgow was one of heaviest betting areas in Britain. The number of bookmakers was drastically cut by the legalising of betting shops on May 1, 1961. On that day there were 409 licensed betting shops in Glasgow. London, with nine times the population, had about 200 shops.

Not far from Phillip's surgery was a tenement flat that served as a bookie's headquarters. Two tall, tough-looking men guarded the entrance to the close. They wore hard-wearing brown suits and just stood there hour after hour with jacket collars turned up, caps well down over their foreheads, rubbing and blowing their big, raw-boned hands. They never wore coats, even in the most severe weather. If it rained or snowed they stood inside the close gazing mutely out.

One day Phillip's wife Rhoda took a telephone call from the bookie's house. "The doactor's waantit doon here urgent," said a hoarse voice. "It's no' a health service call. It's private and we waant the doactor tae come hissel."

Phillip later described the incident: I climbed out of my car and walked to the close. As I entered the two watchdogs looked me up and down with cold, expressionless eyes and fell in behind me. Wordlessly they followed me up the stairs. I felt like someone in an American gangster movie about to be taken for a ride.

The flat had two rooms and a kitchen. The rooms had been stripped bare except for some long tables on which rested several telephones. In a bed recess in the kitchen a man lay drenched in blood.

A fairly well-dressed wee man at the bedside said, 'Will ye jist fix him up doctor. Nae questions, eh?'

The injured man was an obvious hospital case. The wee man smiled apologetically. 'Er, ah'm afraid ye'll huv tae fix him up here doctor. Jist wan of them things ye know. Kinda awkward like. Don't worry about the expense doc. It's no a health service job. Jist fix him up nice.'

I argued a bit more but there were mysterious reasons why the man couldn't go hospital. Eventually I rolled up my sleeves and stitched up a very deep head wound. A sewing machine would have been very handy. As I worked an occasional knock came at the kitchen door and a head poked round to enquire, 'How's it goin'? The job took some time but the man didn't bat an eyelid even though I was stitching away without an anaesthetic. He was so drunk he didn't feel a twinge. By the time I was finished with him he had more bandages than King Tutenkhamen.

' That's fine,' said the wee man. 'We'll just get him hame noo.'

What! I exploded. You can't move him. He's in a bad way.

'That's awright doc. Don't worry about it. We'll see him awright.'

A taxi and bodyguards were summoned and the man was trundled downstairs and bundled into the cab. Someone put a soft hat on his head in an effort to cover the bandages. He looked like the invisible man. As the taxi drove away into the night I expected to hear the director shout 'Cut' in the best Hollywood tradition.

I never saw the man again but I was told he lived to fight again. His assailant was dealt with privately, without the assistance of the police. It was not the done thing to call the police into these private disagreements. They were settled quietly and without juridical delay but the settlements always meant a lot of work for hospital casualty surgeons.

For some time Phillip was physician to a Glasgow theatre, looking after the medical needs of the various showpeople who came to play there. He didn't find much glamour in the job. "Show business people can have a great nuisance value," he told me. "They make constant demands for special injections and treatments, for tranquilisers to calm them down and energisers to pep them up again."

One famous singer haunted him all the time he was in Glasgow. His particular obsession was for throat sprays. He had only to hear about something that was supposed to be good for keeping his voice in trim and he was down to the surgery in a flash.

Among the people who came to the theatre was a troup of famous dancing girls. Most of them were well developed children not long out of dancing school. Whenever Phillip went into the theatre during rehearsals every one of them would come to him with some little complaint or other. All they wanted was a little bit of sympathy and they looked on Phillip as a father figure.

One girl phoned him at 3 a.m. Weeping bitterly she said he had had a tooth out and it was hurting her. She was only 16 and this was her first job away from home and she was lonely. There was another 16-year-old girl in the lodgings with her, but as she was also lonely they weren't much comfort to each other.

One girl went onstage while she was having a miscarriage, despite Phillip's strict instruction to go to bed. How she got through the show was a mystery as she had lost a lot of blood. She couldn't tell the troupe leader as she would have lost her job and there were always a lot of girls desperate to get into the troupe.

Glaswegians are rarely stuck for a word to describe their symptoms. Their vocabularies may not be extensive but they are certainly imaginative.

One word that cropped up early in Phillip's career fascinated him. "It sounded so authentic I thought I had somehow missed it during my medical training," he said. "I went to the length of searching for it in several medical dictionaries, but of course it didn't exist. The word was 'defluction,' which was used to describe phlegm. "I don't know how it came to be coined but it should certainly be absorbed into the language," said Phillip. "It sounds to onomatopoeic. People who suffered from brown kittles (bronchitis) are always having difficulty in getting rid of their defluction.

Children were often described as 'towtie.' They took a towt of this or a towt of that; in other words they were susceptible to bouts of minor illnesses. Almost every day anxious mothers phoned Phillip to say "the wean's hingin.'" The literal translation of this was "the child is hanging" but it really meant that he (she) was listless, not that he was suspended from the ceiling.

If a mother wanted Phillip to regard the call as really urgent she would say, "the wean's nose is going in an oot" or "it's drawing up its legs." These were really serious symptoms but Phillip was never able to find out what they meant.

In Phillip's day there were apparently a large number of people in Gorbals who regurgitated rings of various kinds. Many callers said their children or spouses were "vomiting rings" round them. "Sometimes I was tempted to tell the callers to collect the rings so that I could count them when I got there to determine how serious the attack was."

Women patients often came into his surgery to report on their operations. Some accounts verged on the sensational. "I've had everything taken away, doctor," they told him in hushed tones. "I had visions of an abdominal wall, a backbone, and a hollow space between!" he said.

Phillip Seltzer died of a heart attack in his car one evening as he drove to his surgery. He was 43 and had been in practice about 16 years. Gorbals had claimed another victim.